Wednesday, May 27, 2020
May 27, 2020

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Double-homicide suspect has history of mental illness

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

The man accused of stabbing two men to death early Sunday morning at a Vancouver apartment complex has a history of mental illness and competency issues, which in the past led to the dismissal of other criminal cases, a prosecutor said Monday.

Dustin L. Zapel, 35, appeared Monday morning in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Court records list two victims as a 42-year-old man and a 55-year-old man. The victims’ names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin. A third surviving victim was identified as David Garner, 51.

All of the men reportedly lived at the Central Park Place Apartments, which is on the Portland VA Vancouver Medical Center campus and is a transitional housing program for people who are low-income, homeless or at risk of being homeless. It is managed and operated by the Vancouver Housing Authority.

Daniel Herrigstad, a spokesman for the medical center, said he could not comment on how long Zapel had lived at the apartment complex, or any information about the residents.

Deputy Prosecutor Aaron Bartlett said that Zapel has had prior felony and misdemeanor cases dismissed due to competency issues. Zapel poses an extreme danger to the community, he said, and asked the judge to set his bail at $5 million.

Judge Bernard Veljacic set bail at $3 million. Zapel will be arraigned July 28.

Suspect ‘decided to kill’

At about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Vancouver police responded to the apartment complex, 1900 Fort Vancouver Way, for a possible stabbing. The stabbing suspect, identified as Zapel, had left the scene before officers arrived.

Garner told police he heard what sounded like a “scuffle and growling sounds” coming from outside his bedroom window in the courtyard. He went to check on the noise, and as he approached the communal kitchen, he saw fellow resident Zapel in the kitchen holding a knife, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Superior Court.

Garner said that when he spoke to Zapel, he responded with something unintelligible. Zapel then started coming toward Garner with the knife, and the man went back into his room, the affidavit said.

Upon arriving at the scene, police found two men dead in the courtyard with cuts and puncture wounds to their bodies. Video surveillance from inside and outside the complex shows Zapel stabbing the 55-year-old victim multiple times in the head, torso and stomach. His body was found a short distance away from the 42-year-old’s body. Police said the attack appeared to be unprovoked, court records state.

Officers launched a manhunt that led to Zapel’s capture about seven hours after the slayings in the Five Corners area, near Northeast 94th Avenue and Northeast Covington Road.

In an interview with detectives, Zapel said he was lying in bed when he decided to kill people, according to the affidavit. He said he went outside, found the 42-year-old man and stabbed him in the head and chest and bit him in the head. He then repeatedly stabbed “the other guy,” whose name he didn’t know, he said, in the stomach, court documents said.

Zapel said he came back inside the building and saw Garner, whom he lunged at, trying to stab him, court records state.

During his court hearing, Zapel appeared separately from the other inmates and wore a suicide-prevention smock — given to inmates who may try to harm themselves with standard jail clothing.

His court-appointed attorney, Jeff Sowder, asked the judge to order that the victims’ bodies be preserved for examination by one of his experts. Veljacic said it is an issue for the judge assigned to the case to address.

The Vancouver Housing Authority released a statement Monday afternoon offering its condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

“The Board of Commissioners and staff of Vancouver Housing Authority are saddened by the events at Central Park Place this past Sunday, July 17th, that threatened one of our residents and resulted in the deaths of two men,” the statement reads.

The complex has 124 residential units and about 78 tenants who are veterans and work with VA social workers. The rest are disabled or recently homeless referred by Columbia River Mental Health, Share House, Community Services Northwest, YWCA and the Clark County Health Department. The referring agency provides case management for each resident, according to the statement.

“We are cooperating with the police to understand what happened. We are working with our Central Park Place property managers, Key Property Services, and the service providers who work with Central Park Place residents to ensure that our residents will be safe and secure. We appreciate the team at Key Property Services for their response to the tragedy and the support provided to the tenants following the event,” the statement reads.